Making the most of an opportunity

Early in January 2023, Netra and I took the kids to Oberon with family. We were out there to fossick for gold and gem stones, spend time with the family fishing at Lake Oberon and just enjoy the last weekend of our Christmas holidays. Oberon is not considered as a birding hotspot according to E-bird, but we wanted to explore both Saturday and Sunday mornings while the rest of our family were too happy to be still in bed snoozing for a while longer.

While exploring around the dam wall on Saturday morning, we noticed a juvenile Australian Kestrel sitting nicely on the rock wall of the dam itself. It was a young bird, and quite trusting of me inching my way closer and closer, while Netra waited further back to go for a flight shot, should my approach flush the youngster. It was such a beautiful bird as it sat on the rocks in the glorious morning sun.

Eventually the youngster did fly off and joined its sibling across a small patch of water on a rocky outcrop, calling feverishly. Both birds were old enough to be independent of their parents and hung out together. We noted a third kestrel as well, another juvenile. Since they were not close enough for good quality images, we walked around the park below the dam. It is at this time we saw another kestrel kid sitting on a low wire, over the grassy field around the picnic area. It made a dive down to the grass every now and then, catching the odd cricket and skink. This gave me an idea immediately, after having seen other photographers doing this at a Sydney location. I googled the nearest Petbarn, which was in Kelso, 45 minutes away. I called and asked them if they had live crickets, and if they did have the largest size available. Once my question was satisfied, I asked the lady if she could kindly hold three boxes for me so I can drive up from Oberon to purchase them.

Once we picked up the crickets, we headed back to honour other commitments with our family and planned to return the next morning and see if the idea would work on the kestrels. As it dawned on Sunday morning, the weather turned cold and very windy, giving us little hope of being able to get good images of the kestrel kids. When the gate to the dam reserve finally opened, we drove in, parked quickly and assessed the situation at hand. One kestrel of the four we saw the day before was around the picnic area so I went straight into action mode. I presented half a dozen crickets to it and the bird took no time swooping down to take advantage of the peace offering. Kestrels are generally not to perturbed by humans, but young ones are even more approachable at times. Offer a free meal and your chances of obtaining excellent images improves dramatically. We spent the next hour taking images of this young bird that was only too happy to be given its free breakfast.

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